Immigration Backfill: Readers have sent in links to some sources that back up the argument that illegal immigration is bad for both economic equality and social equality:
Here's Paul Krugman making the case that illegal immigration drives down wages for the unskilled. And here. And here. [Thanks to T. Maguire]
Here's a piece on the growth of favela-like shantytowns in Texas [via alert reader P.]
Here are some pieces discussing how immigration amnesties in Europe have resulted in more illegal immigration. In this country, President Bush's mere proposal of an amnesty in 2004 apparently produced a surge of illegal crossings on our southern border. ... [Also via P.]
P.S.: And here is The Economist's Will Wilkinson accusing me of an "unacknowledged commitment to moral nationalism," by which he means that I don't favor policies that would hurt unskilled American workers even if they would help unskilled Latin American illegal immigrants. This is wrong. I'm happy to acknowledge a commitment to moral nationalism. Wilkinson has a plausible but extreme and eccentric libertarian position that we have no moral obligation to help fellow nationals before we help everyone else on the planet, because he views borders as a "global system of socio-economic apartheid." Well, OK. Let's vote!
In case a few of his readers aren't convinced, Wilkinson's backup argument is that "low-skilled immigration doesn't actually hurt the native poor." In support of this position, he cites an article arguing that low-skilled immigration can increase "wages of native workers" overall, which is not the same thing as helping the "poor." Sure, Will Wilkinson and Bill Kristol and Rupert Murdoch—and lots of doctors and lawyers and real-estate salesmen and office workers—benefit from having cheap immigrant labor. The overall economy may grow. But the argument of Krugman, et al., is precisely that "while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration—especially immigration from Mexico." Krugman's words, not mine. (Also:"[L]ow skilled immigration depresses the wages of less-skilled native-born Americans.") As Krugman notes, it's
just supply and demand; we're talking about large increases in the number of low-skill workers relative to other inputs into production, so it's inevitable that this means a fall in wages.
The theorists cited by Wilkinson suggest the wages of unskilled natives who used to work at now-disappeared $20/hour construction jobs might still increase if these "natives move to occupations requiring a relatively higher level of skills," such as the ability to do "complex-interactive and prevalently cognitive tasks." But that won't help people who don't have these skills. You can't just snap your fingers and acquire "complex-interactive skills." Some people won't be able to acquire them even after many years. (Nor do I think they should have to. We want a society where someone can be a ditch digger and, if he or she works, lead a fully respected life, even without a GED.)
Anyway, it's impressive bad faith for Wilkinson to pretend he's refuted an argument that's explicitly about unskilled workers by citing an article that claims lack of evidence of a negative effect on all workers.
But even if we accept Wilkinson's global perspective, I think his argument has what he would call a "prior commitment"—not to nationalism but to to economism. That is, it assumes that the most important thing in people's lives is how much money they have, so that the main questions about the effect of immigration are narrowly materialistic: does it raise wages and/or money inequality in the relevant overall population (which, in Wilkinson's case, is the global population)? He says:
"We are interested in inequality in large part because most of us believe, rightly or wrongly, that levels and trends in inequality function as a rough measure of our society's justice."
"We"? Speak for yourself, bub. That's not why I'm interested in income inequality. I'm interested in income inequality because at the extremes it can undermine social equality, our sense that we are the equal of our fellows. Social equality is not an economic concept. "Whether we come from poverty or wealth ... we are all equal in the eyes of God. But as Americans that is not enough—we must be equal in the eyes of each other." Reagan said that, not Rawls.
True, that pesky idea of nationhood crops up when we're trying to figure out who our "fellows" are. But even if you concede that national borders are a silly, easily disposed relic, the question arises: what's better for de-nationalized humans—a) to have more income in a borderless world in which social equality is impossible thanks to the vast extremes between an American banker and a Bangladeshi beggar (who will, in Wilkinson's world, be a Boston beggar), or b) to live in a series of political subdivisions within which a rule of equal respect conditions all social relations?
I'd argue that everyone, even poor Bangladeshis and not-as-poor Mexicans, would be better off (including being happier) living in smaller egalitarian subdivisions—-let's call them, I don't know, "countries"—in which they measured their relations against their fellow countrymen, rather than everyone else on the planet. Better to have a bunch of social-egalitarian nations, rich and poor, than to have slightly more monied (on average) citizens of a huge, socially unequal world.
I'm not saying this is a simple argument or an easy argument. But it's the argument I'm making, which isn't the one Wilkinson says "we" make or the one that he himself makes. He cares about money, not social relations. Or, rather, if he does care about social relations, he doesn't care about social equality.
P.P.S.: Berkeley economist Brad DeLong seemingly seconds Wilkinson, with characteristic subtlety (he nominates me for "Stupidest Human Alive"). I know DeLong has disagreed with Krugman in the past, but I didn't realize things had gone this far. Here is a comment I attempted to post in the comments section to DeLong's item:
Mickey Kaus said...
Paul Krugman, Stupidest Human Alive of 2006?
"[W]hile immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration — especially immigration from Mexico. ... Realistically, we'll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants. Mainly that means better controls on illegal immigration."
Your comment is being held for moderation and will be displayed once it has been approved by the site owner.
The site owner did not approve. That's how DeLong rolls! I discuss his bizarre Jekyll/Hyde persona with Bob Wright on bloggingheads ... Suffice it to say I suspect DeLong actually agrees with Krugman but in this instance was acting more in his capacity as den mother of the "Journolist" juicebox mafia. ...
P.P.P.S.: Why does this item have a cheesy headline like "Krugman vs. the Whippersnappers!"? Hey, you try to Search Engine Optimize an item like this. Google is the enemy of forthrightness, and of good humor. In the future, every headline will have the words "Sarah Palin" in it. "Krugman" was as close as I could get.
* Not his first bit of bad faith either. In Wiklinson's lede he says I think immigration hurts income equality simply because when you add a lot of poor immigrants to the bottom of the income chart the chart looks more unequal. Even that's not a crazy point to make, but what I'm talking about is clearly immigration's effect on those people who were here before the immigrants came. One of DeLong's commenters points this out ... 3:05 p.m.